Breaking the trauma bond can be just as traumatizing as the abuse that created it because it requires a lot of self-reflection that reveals some of our deepest vulnerabilities and insecurities. While healing and rebuilding from a trauma bonded relationship it is very common for victims of abuse to want to know how long trauma bonds last.
A study among 150 survivors of trauma bonded romantic relationships and 150 survivors of trauma bonded relationships among family members revealed that the average duration of the trauma bond for those bonded to a romantic partner was 5.5 years and for those bonded to a family member it was 12.2 years.
In this article we are going to guide you through cognitive dissonance because 96 percent of the participants believed that cognitive dissonance was the reason that their trauma bond lasted so long. We also are going to unpack three of the best pieces of advice we gathered from the 300 participants who participated in our trauma bonding study on how to break a trauma bond as quickly as possible.
Down below there is a short video about the signs that a trauma bond is over because breaking a trauma bond and becoming indifferent to your abusers is a long journey that doesn’t yield results instantly. Being aware of the signs of a trauma bond being broken can give you the motivation you may need to keep pushing on towards a happier and healthier life!
A Short Video About the Different Signs That Indicate That a Trauma Bond Is Broken
How Does Cognitive Dissonance Allow Trauma Bonds to Last for So Long?
Cognitive dissonance is the superglue that keeps many trauma bonded relationships in place for months, years, and even decades at a time. It is a theory that reveals that when we experience an inconsistency among belief, behavior, and information, it causes a lot of psychological tension. To ease this tension, we will change one or more of the elements causing the inconsistency to make everything consistent.
In abusive relationships cognitive dissonance manifests in the form of the justification, rationalization, and normalization of abuse. 94 percent of the participants in this study believed that cognitive dissonance was to blame for the continuation of their trauma bonded relationship so it is really important to understand how it comes about.
From the perspective of an abuser who is trying to manipulate their victim into a state of cognitive dissonance, the first step would be to mirror them. In a trauma bonded relationship mirroring is when an abuser will absorb an extraordinary amount of information about their victim’s identity and use that information to create a falsified identity that is designed to fill a void in their life.
The next manipulative step that abusers take is future faking. It is when an abuser will make a false promise for the future to get what they want in the present. It can manifest in a verbal form, like an abuser making a false promise to their partner to give up gambling if they stop going to the gym, because they’re insecure about their partner interacting with others, but continuing to gamble in secret.
Future faking can also manifest in a non-verbal from, the falsified identity that they build through mirroring to fill a void in the victim’s life. You see, mirroring is all about the abuser being exactly who their victim needs them to be. By presenting themselves as “perfect” the abuser is manipulating the victim into envisioning a happy, healthy, and secure future that is never going to happen.
One the abuser senses that they’ve got their victim hooked on the idea that the abuser is the “perfect” person for them and the idea of a happy, healthy, and secure future, they will drop the act and begin the devaluation phase.
The devaluation phase is home to some of the most abusive narcissistic behavior patterns imaginable. It’s plagued with invalidation, devaluation, dehumanization, manipulation, and chaos. It is also where abusers are able to tighten the trauma bond by throwing their victim into a state of cognitive dissonance.
Remember, the three pillars of cognitive dissonance are belief, behavior, and information. When abusers use mirroring and future faking, they are giving the victim the information and showing them the behavior that they need to see to develop the belief that the relationship is happy, healthy, and secure.
When the relationship moves from the “happy, healthy, and secure” beginning stages to the abusive devaluation phase, the behavior and information aspect of the relationship changes drastically and leaves the victim with only the belief that the relationship is happy, healthy, and secure.
This leaves the victim with two options. They can acknowledge that the behavior and information has changed drastically by recognizing that everything was a lie and the person they thought was “perfect” is really just a manipulative abuser or they can justify, rationalize, and ultimately normalize the abuse to keep their belief of a healthy, happy, and secure relationship alive.
You can read our complete guides to this subject in our articles Why Are Trauma Bonds So Hard to Break and Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction but abusers have a many powerful techniques that are designed to keep the victim’s hopes and beliefs of a happy, healthy, and secure relationship with someone who is “perfect” for them alive.
Meaning that more often than not, abusers are able to manipulate their victim into justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing the abuse instead of letting go of the wish for things to be different by acknowledging that they are in an abusive relationship.
Cognitive dissonance is really dangerous. Not only does it keep victims of abuse trauma bonded to their abuser for years, but it also destroys the victim’s sense of self, corrupts their perception of love, and causes them to develop a belief that they aren’t worth anything more than the abuse that they’re experiencing.
We highly recommend that you read our article Can a Trauma Bonded Relationship Last to understand how all of those are possible but now let’s take a look at the 3 best tips that the 300 participants had for breaking a trauma bond.
Four Tips for Breaking a Trauma Bond
Here at Unfilteredd we are always going to strongly recommend that you seek out the guidance of a qualified professional for the best help possible. However, a qualified professional isn’t feasible for everyone so here are three of the most common pieces of advice for breaking a trauma bond that the 300 participants who participated in our trauma bonding study had to offer.
Journal to Minimize the Amount of Self-Doubt, Self-Blame, and Confusion
We highly recommend that you read our article How Are Narcissists Made for more context but abusers use their victims as repositories for their own negative emotions. This means that the abuser projects all of their suppressed shame, fears, insecurities, vulnerabilities, internalized anger and aggression, and sense of inadequacy onto their victim so that they don’t have to deal with it themselves.
In an environment plagued with invalidation, devaluation, dehumanization, and chaos, it is very common for victims of abuse to adopt the negative projections as aspects of their own identity. Meaning that they begin to believe all of the bad things that their abuser says about them.
This can be an incredibly delusional and confusing experience because the manipulation that the victim is being exposed to is forcing them to maintain a very negative belief about themselves even though it is being contradicted by reality. So they believe all of these negative things about themselves even though it is clearly the abuser’s projection and not their true identity.
It is for this reason that journaling is at the top of the advice list. If you were to keep a journal to remind yourself of who you are and how that contradicts who your abuser is trying to portray you as, you’ll have a much easier time breaking the trauma bond.
To do this you should write down your core values, goals in life, dreams for the future, things that you like and dislike, all of the times that your abuser is abusive to you and others so they can’t gaslight you, and anything else of importance in your life. Doing this will give you a clear and reliable account of who you are, what is happening to you, and allow you to hold onto your reality in the face of abuse.
The important thing to remember about journaling is to start small. You don’t have to know exactly what you want in life for it to be effective. Just focus on taking one step after the other and before you know it you will be the best version of yourself!
Join a Support Group to Have Your Reality Validated
It doesn’t matter how much you journal, how hard you work in therapy, how educated you become about abusive relationships, or how far away you get from your abuser, you are going to have days where you need someone to lean on.
To heal from a trauma bond you are going to have to rip the limitations that your abuser confined you to down and rebuild yourself from scratch. It is hard and you’ll need all of the support you can get. Having a support group that validates your experiences and reassures your decisions is so important.
There are going to be a ton of groups that support victims of abuse on social media and in your local area, but the best supporters are family and friends. If you have family or friends who don’t understand abusive relationships because they’re ignorant or were also manipulated by your abuser, we strongly recommend that you check out our article How to Explain Narcissism to Others, even if you are not being abused by a narcissist.
The truth is that all abusive relationships have narcissistic elements embedded within them, familiarizing yourself with narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and narcissistic personalities is essential for having a successful healing journey.
Educate Yourself on Abusive Relationships to Get the Answers and Closure That You Need
There are two very common mistakes that trauma bonded victims of abuse make when breaking their trauma bond. First, they expect to get the answers and closure that they desire from their abuser. Second, they don’t educate themselves on the abuse that they experienced which causes them to fall into trauma bonded relationships in the future.
Both of these mistakes can be corrected by educating yourself on abuse. Our articles How Can Trauma Bonds Be Prevented, What Are the Signs of a Trauma Bonded Relationship, and Why Do Trauma Bonds Happen are really good resources that you can use to educate yourself on trauma bonding.
When the time is right, learning about the abuse that you experienced is always going to give you the information that you need to rebuild your definition of love, reconnect with your core values, reconstruct your sense of self, and most importantly, prevent you from finding yourself in another abusive relationship in the future.
Take Care of Your Thoughts, Feelings, Emotions, and Needs
One of the reasons that narcissists form relationships with others is because they want to use their victim as a repository for all of their suppressed negative emotions. We talk about this a lot in our article What Do Narcissists Want In a Relationship but what narcissists want is someone that they can project their negative emotions onto.
Projection is a defense mechanism that occurs when we take parts of our identity that we find unacceptable and place them onto others. (e.g. a husband feels guilty about having feeling for a woman at work but instead of acknowledging his own feelings he projects them onto his wife by accusing her of being unfaithful)
The parts of a narcissist’s identity that they find unacceptable are their negative emotions. These are powerful ones such as a sense of being inadequate, unlovable, unwanted, and weak. They are also terrified of abandonment and their own insecurities. The problem is that they don’t have the emotional intelligence to manage these negative emotions with healthy forms of emotional regulation.
But by invalidating, devaluing, humiliating, degrading, dehumanizing, and manipulating their victims on a daily basis, they are able to destroy the emotional stability of their victim. This gives them someone to point their finger at and think to themselves, “I’m not the weak, inadequate, unlovable, worthless, and unwanted one, they are.” This allows them to turn you into a repository and project all of their negative emotions onto you.
This is why taking care of your own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs are so important when trying to break a trauma bond. It will look different for everyone but as a general rule you can start to do this by practicing good hygiene, doing something that you enjoy every day, eating healthy, exercising, finding things to do to relax. (e.g. yoga, meditation, drawing, reading, etc.)
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
If ignored, a trauma bond can trap you in a cycle of invalidation, devaluation, dehumanization, and chaos for a lifetime. The advice we were so lucky to get from the 300 participants who participated in our trauma bonding study was fantastic.
That said, in our article How to Break a Trauma Bond With a Narcissist we conducted a study among 431 survivors of trauma bonded relationships which yielded eight more techniques that you can use to break a trauma bond so be sure to check that out!
Breaking a trauma bond is hard but with the right approach, you are going to be able to live a happy, healthy, and secure life with people who cherish you for who you are, not who they want you to be. Remember, the only thing that love requires is for you to be yourself, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.
Sullivan, Cris M., and William S. Davidson. “The provision of advocacy services to women leaving abusive partners: An examination of short-term effects.” American journal of community psychology 19.6 (1991): 953.